Will the Jeff Bezos spheres become more iconic than the Space Needle? Only the future can tell. But the Cold War relic, which is all the Space Needle is, has always been a second- (if not third-) rate American icon. So surpassing the cheesy flying saucer, which is being remodeled by one of the few architectural firms in the city with an international reputation, Olson Kundig, will not be that hard or surprising. It's worth noting that all of the glass that's being installed in the Space Needle's restaurant, observation deck, and elevator will transform it into something of a sphere in the sky.

But the spheres on the ground do represent an aspect of modernity that the left needs to consider more deeply. The boldness of the project, and bold not in the sense of building materials or architecture, but in scale (the massive collection of plants, the spheres' complex nutrient and waste systems, and so on), obscures its origins in the public. One speaker at the grand opening of the spheres today explained that the project was inspired by London's Kew Gardens, a botanical garden that was established in 1840 and, as I have written before, was at once scientific and colonial, enlightenment and market. But these spheres, and their context—the present boom—have echoes that go back further than that. This is what impressed me when looked up at the metal, the glass, and the glowing blue ring that activated and spoke when Jeff Bezos asked Alexa to open his spheres. I heard the deep dub of this work.

Somewhere in the future: the last billionaire, Jeff Bezos, speaks to the last worker in history, Alexa.
Somewhere in the future: the last billionaire, Jeff Bezos, speaks to the last worker in history, Alexa. Charles Mudede

What should be kept in mind while in the presence of all of this is that big thinking has always come from the left (not the right), from the public (not private enterprise). The big thinking and planning of capitalism's monopoly period in the second half of the 19th century had its roots in the socialist movements that sprouted in its first half.

The first major transformation of a city, Second Empire Paris, has Saint-Simonian socialist ideas and schemes as its inspiration. However, a considerable part of the huge improvements in road, railroad, sewage systems, construction methods that we now associate with the city planner Georges-Eugène Haussmann were funded not by the public but financial innovations that effectively privatized civil and commercial projects that were completely out of the reach of the capital of individuals. The socialist dreaming needed investments that only the public could support or fund. This fact has never changed. To avoid the inevitable, capitalism responded by liberating itself from an accumulation that's confined by space and rapidly expanded into one that's wide open to the future.

Haussmann's Paris is with us today in Seattle. This explosion of construction, this tossing up of taller and larger and more spectacular buildings, has been made possible by a dense network of financial instruments and institutions that transform what's really only possibly by socialism into what a few can enjoy as capitalism.